Off-Label Drugs Prescribed For Weight Loss

At 285 pounds, Marcy Westland's life was dominated by her weight. She tried many different diets and nothing worked.

"When I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw," she told E! Entertainment News anchor Giuliana Depandi. "And I figured everyone else who was looking at me felt the same way. Everyone wants a magic pill that they can just take and be skinny."

In the second part of The Early Show series "Losing It," Depandi examines the controversial practice of using off-label medication — which means the drugs are approved by the FDA to treat conditions other than weight loss — to slim down.

Dr. Robert Skversky mixed a drug cocktail for Westland that brought her weight down to 170. He said diet and exercise have never been proven to be a long-term weight loss solution. Instead, he put Westland on the anti-depressant Lexipro and an appetite suppressant. Since she hit a plateau, he added Topomax, an anti-seizure medication.

The practice is legal but controversial. Still, Dr. Skversky says his patients have good results.

"The philosophy is to treat overweight or obesity like every other chronic diseases, just like diabetes or hypertension," he said.

Dr. George Blackburn says the practice is untested, and patients who seek off-label drugs for weight loss are desperate and vulnerable.

"They need therapy," he said. "They need counseling, they do not need an off-label medication."

Westland says she sometimes feels light-headed, but says it is worth it.

"I'm pretty much willing to go through some serious side effects if I had to," she said.

"We give the medications we use, basically, because they work. And one always has to weigh the benefits versus the side effects," Skversky said.

Maria, who asked that her last name not be used, weighed only 120 pounds when she decided that she needed to be thinner.

She started taking Adderall, which, like Ritalin, is a stimulant typically prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. Maria studied reference books, went to the doctor, and faked the symptoms of ADHD. She fidgeted and changed topics while talking to the doctor and was prescribed her pills. But after six months of high energy and consistent weight loss, Maria started having problems.

"I found it didn't have the same effects as it did before, especially on my weight," she said. "So, logically, I asked for an increase from my doctor. And he said, 'But, of course.' "

Maria continued to take Adderall even though she couldn't sleep and her weight was getting dangerously low.

"I got fatter, in the mirror, while I was losing weight," she said.

Maria became chemically dependent and psychotic episodes followed.

"I thought that my boss was tracking my thoughts and what I was doing through my computer," she said. "Toward the end it was, 'I can't stop taking this. I can't stop this process. Something bad is happening.' "

By the time Maria got help she was 80 pounds. It took time to get back to health, but she's studying for her doctorate, and has come to terms with her weight.

"I had this ideal, this person I wanted to be, and who I am today is nothing like that ideal," she said. "And I could've never imagined this. Yet, I am so happy and so fulfilled."
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